Thursday, February 4, 2016

[Blog Tour: Review] Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man 
Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 26, 2016
ISBN: 9780399553042
Goodreads
Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.
I don't usually read Middle Grade books, but upon seeing the blurb for Anna and the Swallow Man, how could I not give this one book a shot? The blurb is short, simple, and sweet - one day, seven-year-old Anna's father left for the day... and he never came back. Wait... what!? I know, right!? How can you NOT be intrigued? How on earth can you not even be the littlest curious as to what happened to Anna's father... and most importantly, to what will now become of Anna? Also, I was a bit surprised to find out that this book was marketed towards young adults (and even as a YA book) even though the main character is seven. Hmmm... makes you wonder, right? And well, once my curiosity was piqued... well, I had to satisfy the damn thing.

We get right to the thick of the story from the beginning - the first few pages describe Anna's father, their relationship, and ultimatlely him leaving her for a while. It didn't take long for Anna to realize that her father wasn't coming back, and she had no one to care for her. Simply put, she had no one. This all changes when one day, Anna comes across a gentleman that enthralls her.  She follows him, and soon enough, the two travel together. This gentleman never reveals his name to Anna - rather, he asks her to call him Swallow Man, and at the same time, for her to not use hers unless the two of them are alone. Journeying together for years, the Swallow Man teaches Anna how to live without her father, how to fend for herself, and how to survive.

To be completely honest about it, Anna and the Swallow Man is a confusing book to read. More often than not, I feel like there were two Lyras reading the book - one Lyra who appreciates the beautiful prose and writing and just reads along; and one Lyra who sees every sentence as a metaphor and a hint of what terrible thing is to come as the story progresses. It was hard not to feel this way - while the book was told through the eyes of young Anna and we are more often than not engulfed in her naivety, there were also times wherein there were snippets that gave us a peek of how things really were. After all, Anna and the Swallow Man is not just a story of little Anna losing her father and journeying with her new friend - it's also a story of war.

What I appreciated the most about Anna and the Swallow Man is that while the war is definitely an aspect of the story, it didn't overpower the other facets of the novel. At the heart of the book is still Anna growing, maturing, and starting to see the world as it really is. Little by little, the layers of Anna's innocence are peeled away, and we start to understand Anna as a character. As early as the first page of the novel, a recurring theme of Anna and the Swallow Man is Anna trying to figure out who she is amidst all the lying she has to do in order to survive, and amidst the chaos that has continuously threatened the peace that she once knew.

Easily the most intriguing character of Anna and the Swallow Man is the Swallow Man. We have no idea who he is, and what we know of him, we only know because of Anna. We only see the parts of him that Anna sees, though of course there are those tantalizing all-knowing snippets that I mentioned earlier that hint at something more. The Swallow Man is the chameleon of all chameleons - he can be anyone he wants to be, and he's a master of making people see only what he wants them to see. I understand why Anna found him so fascinating in the first place, and why she's ready to follow him wherever. (I won't lie though - I need to learn MORE about the Swallow Man!)

As I have mentioned earlier, there is something so hauntingly beautiful about how this book was written. The prose is captivating, and while it was hard to wrap my head around it at first, I couldn't get enough of it in no time. Savit is an incredibly talented wordsmith - he says so much in one sentence, and he has no problem painting a picture of what he wants you to imagine. I've also touched upon this before - I think it takes a great deal of talent to be able to tell a story set in war without the war overpowering the other themes of the story. Instead of overshadowing Anna, the war instead complemented her character growth.

People say all the time that sometimes, it's not about the destination, but rather, about the journey. I know you see where I'm going with this... but yes, I do this that this the case with this book. Anna and the Swallow Man travel together for two years with no clear destination in sight, and we see how much they grow and change during this time. While the ending may be a bit perplexing, try to instead focus on how the Swallow Man - and most especially Anna - arrived at that point. At the end of all, Anna's new beginning on the last page just might be the closure - the ending - that she (and maybe we) needed.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

7 comments:

  1. What a intriguing book! I've recently read another review who felt similarly about this book, and it does seem like a worthwhile read despite your lackluster rating. I haven't read middle grade in a long time, but this one does seem like it would be worth the trip down memory lane! Great review Lyra :)

    Eri @ Airy Reads

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    1. Thanks, Eri! I hope you get to read this book when you have the chance - it's not as Middle Grade as I was expecting, but the MC's innocence was so refreshing to read! :)

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  2. I’ve been debating whether to pick this one up or not ever since I came across it. I do really love the cover design and the title too and the plot sounds pretty intriguing. The book seems to have some level of magical realism, although I might be wrong about this. Either way, I think I’ll give it a go at some point to see what I think of it. Great review!
    http://ofstacksandcups.blogspot.com/

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    1. Yes, I do think there is a bit of magical realism in the book. I can't wait to see what you think of it! :)

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  3. Omg you summed this up SO WELL and so beautifully! I agree! Although I liked it a bit less than you, because I was so confused? Like I felt like I had to "read between the lines" and it wasn't working for me. :O I still have no idea what their journey was about either?! BUT THE WRITING WAS BEAUTIFUL and I can't help but appreciate that. :')
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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    1. Part of me really felt like I was back in class while reading the book - I read a review somewhere that said that it would be so helpful if there's sparknotes for this book and I sooo agree! And yes the writing is so so so beautiful! :)

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  4. I keep seeing this book pop up on blogs! I definitely find myself intrigued by the concept, but I worry a little bit that the execution isn't going to work for me. Still, it does sound like it's worth a try!

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